AT&T recently conducted a new 5G test that allowed compatible devices to experience download speeds of around 1.5Gbps. While carriers have already performed many 5G trials in the past, this test differs from earlier experiments since it was done on the carrier’s commercial 5G network running on a millimeter wave spectrum.
Before the carrier tests network enhancements on its commercial 5G infrastructure, AT&T first examines the upgrades inside the laboratory. Within a few hours after inspecting the updates in a controlled environment, AT&T may then deploy the upgrade on a part of its commercial network. After testing the performance enhancements within the laboratory and on the field, the service provider will then compare the performance differences between the two settings. Once the carrier is satisfied with the network enhancements, it may now start rolling out the update across its commercial service.
In the most recent testing conducted by AT&T, a mobile form factor test device connected to the carrier’s 5G network managed to achieve download speeds of 1.5Gbps and a ping of 18ms. While the service provider did not supply the upload speeds recorded by the test device, the data transfer rates reached on the company’s next-generation network is faster than the average speeds of 100Mbps experienced on AT&T’s 4G LTE and 5G Evolution networks.
The data speeds achieved on AT&T’s service are still slower than the maximum download rate of 3.77Gbps recorded on Verizon’s 5G infrastructure. Furthermore, AT&T noted that the data speeds experienced by customers on its 5G network could be lower than 1.5Gbps due to several reasons, which may include congestion, the presence of obstacles, or distance from the nearest 5G base station.
AT&T takes pride for being the first carrier in the United States to launch a 5G network based on the 5G New Radio standard of 3GPP. In contrast, Verizon's 5G service is based on a proprietary air-interface termed as the 5G TF. This technology is not as scalable as 5G NR, and at this point, Verizon has decided not to expand its network until standards-compliant hardware becomes more widely available.
In contrast, AT&T believes that it could ramp up the expansion of its infrastructure more aggressively. When AT&T launched its network late last year, it was available in twelve cities across the United States, and the company plans to further expand its network to seven more cities in the first half of 2019. Furthermore, Verizon uses its 5G network primarily for its fixed wireless broadband service, while AT&T’s infrastructure caters specifically to mobile users.
To further showcase the carrier’s next-generation network, AT&T worked with NETGEAR to develop a mobile hotspot, called the NETGEAR Nighthawk 5G, and the company will likely sell a number of 5G-capable handsets within the next few months.
The recent test conducted by AT&T shows how quickly 5G networks can improve in terms of data speed and latency. Oftentimes, 5G services simply need software upgrades to enhance their performance, and this event shows how a substantial percentage of customers can experience improved network speeds in a much shorter period.